Wild boar in Spain

The wild boar is the ancestor of the domestic pig. It is common throughout the Iberian Peninsula, except in the arid south-east, where it is relatively rare, though I have seen their tracks in the desert landscape of Cabo de Gata, the driest corner of continental Europe. The absence of water is a limiting factor. This is because all pigs lack sweat glands and cool themselves by wallowing in mud. They are absent from the Balearics and the Canaries. Except in the wolf areas of Northern Spain, the wild boar has no natural predators in Spain, and is in clear expansion, as a result of abandonment of the countryside and recovery of forest. This is despite game hunting of some 60,000-100,000 animals a year. In some areas (eg much of Catalonia) boars have become a serioius agricultural and the hunting season is frequently brought forward to try (often in vain) to put a check on them. Boars also come into conflict with man in peri-urban areas, such as on the outskirts of Barcelona where overfamiliarisation with humans can bring people dangeously close to what is a wild animal, particularly when this is a sow with young. Boars are increasingly attracted to urban edges, lured by easy pickings among rubbish containers and gardens as they lose their fear of man.

Boars also have an important ecological role in helping to clear forest, especially since the catatrophic decline of the rabbit. Walk around any Iberian forest or health and you'll see the larges patches of bare earth scuffed up by boars. They are basically beneficial to woodland ecology, as they root up and overturn earth creating seedbeds in search of worms and grubs and whatnot. Such areas can be colonised by annuals so attrcting insects and these bringing birds, and so on up the food chain. There are, however, losers too:

Photo of wild boar in the Pyrenees by Xavi Vicient. Thanks Xavi. More of his great work soon.


Wolves, boars and capercaillie

The stable presence of the wolf in the Cordillera Cantábrica provides a natural check on wild boar, which are expanding throughout Spain in ever greater numbers into just about every ecosystem (there were reports recently from the Basque Country of boars foraging on beaches and even being spotted swimming at sea).

This check on the boar population may well be good news from the incredibly endangered capercaillie, whose Cantabrian population has plummeted in recent years. One explanation for this is the incursion of the boar into the capercaillie's habitat. Boars search for food. Whenever they come across capercaillie eggs or chicks they gobble them up. The wildlife group FAPAS is convinced that the presence of the wolf in the Cantabrian Mountains is essential to put a natural check on boars. Studies have shown that a significant part of wolves in Cantabrian forests is made up of boar.

The capercaillie's population has fallen by 70% in the Cordillera Cantábrica in the last 22 years, and experts predict that the bird could disappear from here by 2020. As its range shrinks, the two remaining populations are on the point of becoming separated. See also Capercaillie in Spain + wolves in Spain

Wolf excrement with wild boar: Unmistakable. Wild boar is a common prey in the Sierra de la Culebra, though it is unlikely wolves tackle full-grown male boars. Note the dark black excrement underneath. A wolf has marked its presence directly on top of a fox’s excrement. A reminder of who is the boss. More here: Wolf watching in the Sierra de la Culebra

Wild Boar Hunting in Spain

12/11/2006 50,000 wild boar in Catalonia . Numbers continue to rise despite some 24,000 hunted a year in region,. Bring back the wolf says iberianature. ( El Pais )

Boar Hunt of Felipe IV. See also History of Extinction of bears in Spain

Boar hunt in Don Quixote

The appointed day having arrived, Don Quixote armed himself, and Sancho arrayed himself, and mounted on his Dapple (for he would not give him up though they offered him a horse), he placed himself in the midst of the troop of huntsmen. The duchess came out splendidly attired, and Don Quixote, in pure courtesy and politeness, held the rein of her palfrey, though the duke wanted not to allow him; and at last they reached a wood that lay between two high mountains, where, after occupying various posts, ambushes, and paths, and distributing the party in different
positions, the hunt began with great noise, shouting, and hallooing, so that, between the baying of the hounds and the blowing of the horns, they
could not hear one another. The duchess dismounted, and with a sharp boar-spear in her hand posted herself where she knew the wild boars were in the habit of passing. The duke and Don Quixote likewise dismounted and placed themselves one at each side of her. Sancho took up a position in the rear of all without dismounting from Dapple, whom he dared not desert lest some mischief should befall him. Scarcely had they taken their stand in a line with several of their servants, when they saw a huge boar, closely pressed by the hounds and followed by the huntsmen, making towards them, grinding his teeth and tusks, and scattering foam from his mouth. As soon as he saw him Don Quixote, bracing his shield on his arm, and drawing his sword, advanced to meet him; the duke with boar-spear did the same; but the duchess would have gone in front of them all had not the duke prevented her. Sancho alone, deserting Dapple at the sight of the mighty beast, took to his heels as hard as he could and strove in vain to mount a tall oak. As he was clinging to a branch, however, half-way up in his struggle to reach the top, the bough, such was his ill-luck and hard fate, gave way, and caught in his fall by a broken limb of the oak, he hung suspended in the air unable to reach the ground. Finding himself in this position, and that the green coat was beginning to tear, and reflecting that if the fierce animal came that way he might be able to get at him, he began to utter such cries, and call for help so earnestly, that all who heard him and did not see him felt sure he must be in the teeth of some wild beast. In the end the tusked boar fell pierced by the blades of the many spears they held in front of him; and
Don Quixote, turning round at the cries of Sancho, for he knew by them that it was he, saw him hanging from the oak head downwards, with Dapple, who did not forsake him in his distress, close beside him; and Cide Hamete observes that he seldom saw Sancho Panza without seeing Dapple, or Dapple without seeing Sancho Panza; such was their attachment and loyalty one to the other. Don Quixote went over and unhooked Sancho, who, as soon as he found himself on the ground, looked at the rent in his huntingcoat and was grieved to the heart, for he thought he had got a patrimonial estate in that suit.

From Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes [Translated by John Ormsby]


Iberian Boar vocabulary

  • wild boar : jabalí : Sus scrofa
  • bermejo: adolescent boar
  • verraco: adult male boar or pig
  • jabalina: female wild boar
  • rayón: young boar. The name is in reference to the stripes (rayas) along its back.
  • jabato: young wild boar
  • porc senglar (Cat.): boar
  • xabalín (Ast.) : boar

Wild boar links:

See also Wildlife of Spain - Wolf watching in the Sierra de la Culebra - Spanish Bear News - Iberian Lynx News - Iberian Lynx - Badgers in Spain - Wolves in Spain -Wolves, boars and capercaillie - Deer in Spain - Barbary apes in Gibraltar - European and American mink - Coypu in Spain - Pyrenean mountain goat - English-Spanish-Latin mammal checklist for Spain - Comparative table of Castilian and Catalan dictionaries on zoology -- Bats in Spain - Chamois in Spain - European and American mink - Acorns and rats in Castile Mammals in Spain -Wild Cats in Spain

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